In the heady days of high finance, cheap credit and expensive oil, there was so much money sloshing around the world that it was difficult to find ways to spend it.
Many developers, especially in the oil-enriched nations of the Middle East, drafted plans to build super skyscrapers, the likes of which the world had never seen. Had these plans come to fruition--by 2020, barely a decade from now--the tallest finished building in the world today, the 1,670 foot Taipei 101, would have been the 20th.
So much for all that. A crashing global economy put an end to those dreams, at least for now, especially in the Middle East. Thanks to $145-a-barrel oil, the region was home to the most ambitious plans, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats, which tracks the status of the world's tallest towers. Tiny emirates on the Persian Gulf drew up plans to host 10 of the world's 20 tallest buildings by 2020.
Six would have been in Dubai alone, despite the entire United Arab Emirates having a population of less than 5 million. Kuwait planned to build a massive $132 billon planned city with a tower 3,284 feet high (or 1,001 meters, a reference to 1,001 Arabian Nights). The cost was roughly the same as the country's annual gross domestic product.
As the flood of oil money dried up, along with the flood of cheap credit, cooler heads prevailed. Many of the Middle East's projects have been put on hold. Projects in other countries face roadblocks too. The tumbling cost of commodities battered Russia's economy, for example; the foundations for the 2,008-foot Moscow Tower, laid before the economy crumbled, are likely to turn into a series of more modest towers.
The planned 2,000-foot Chicago Spire, a residential tower half again as tall as the Sears Tower, also ran into funding problems, as has New York City's redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. Manhattan's financial services industry, decimated by the financial crisis, has little need for millions of new square feet of office space. A recent study commissioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimated that with all the World Trade Center projects completed, there could be so much office space in Manhattan that it would take until 2037 to fill it.
Still, says Marshall Gerometta, database editor for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats, when the economy bounces back, many of these buildings will too. "As of now I wouldn't want to say that any of these projects will be cancelled all together," he says. "But I am being a bit optimistic."